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Chicago Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton gone for the season with blown-out knee

Eric Edholm
Shutdown Corner

Can you now see why players hate the franchise tag?

Defensive tackle Henry Melton was tagged this offseason by the Chicago Bears, the two sides failed to come to a long-term agreement and, playing on the one-year tender, Melton suffered a torn ACL three games into his 2013 season.

Can Melton return to health? Can he cash in properly? Who knows? All we know now is that the Bears just suffered a big blow to a thin defensive front that, despite a big win in Pittsburgh, has allowed large tracts of yardage at times this season.

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So now the question arrives ... who can step up? Well, for one: Julius Peppers. Yeah, he's a defensive end. But he has not shown up — save for a gift fumble return for a touchdown Sunday night — much in the stat sheet, and it's not as if Peppers is consistently getting double teams and chips from backs and tight ends.

As for a specific replacement for Melton inside, Nate Collins likely will step into the starting lineup with Stephen Paea, and Corey Wootton can kick down from end to tackle on passing downs easily. For depth, there also is Zach Minter, who had a respectable training camp.

Still, neither are on Melton's level. And truth be told, Melton was not on Melton's level prior to Sunday night. He had started slowly, along with Peppers, as others had helped pick up the slack before Melton played well against the Steelers. That is, before he got hurt.

The Bears have a special feel and look about them so far, and they won't crumble. But this is a big loss, no question. And once more, the NFL's flawed free-agency system, which slants heavily toward the teams with little insurance for players in Melton's shoes, is exposed. The soonest that likely would change? The next round of CBA negotiations in six or seven years. Hooray.

Melton's agent, Jordan Woy, tried his best via Twitter to assuage fears that Melton might not be healthy by the start of next season.

Let's hope he gets the deal by then that Melton deserves.

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